Skip Navigation

Mentoring Obstacles

Back to Mentoring Relationship Home


Obstacles Brought on by Mentees

Obstactles Mentors Bring on Themselves

While a mentoring relationship can be incredibly meaningful and lead to great personal and professional gains and satisfaction, it can also be a difficult and disillusioning experience if the mentoring partners are not in sync.

Mentoring relationships may not work for many reasons, including:

  • the focus or goals of the mentee changes
  • conflicts because of personality issues
  • decreased time availability due to increased or changed duties
  • lack of commitment of one of the mentoring participants
  • toxic mentoring

By being aware of the potential obstacles, problems can be anticipated and relationships can be preserved. Here are some types of issues that can crop up and tips on overcoming them.

Obstacles Brought on by Mentees

The "911" Mentee - This mentee is constantly on the verge of a meltdown and has your number on speed dial, so you can help talk them down.

STRATEGY -Be sure to set clear boundaries on your time, while remaining somewhat flexible. Understand that from time to time, your mentee may need some emergency coaching and you don't want to be unapproachable. Also work with the mentee to build their problem solving and coping skills.

The "Pinball" Mentee - This mentee is unfocused and scattered in their goals. They ask for lots of advice but seldom act on the information or follow through on any tasks.

STRATEGY - Set small or short term goals for the mentee, including a deadline for each. Spend time at each meeting looking at progress and outlining steps to achieve the next step. Help them develop time management skills.

The "Apathetic" Mentee - This mentee is not truly interested in being mentored. They don't feel committed to the process or have intentions to follow through with anything. They don't see a clear benefit of being in a mentoring relationship.

STRATEGY - clarify both short and long term goals, and discuss next steps. Apathy may actually be a lack of clear understanding of how the relationship can help achieve these goals. Be specific about the terms of the role that they are to play in the relationship, thereby empowering them to be active in the process, instead of a bystander.

The "Manipulator" Mentee - This mentee is interested in using the relationship for favors, contacts to other senior faculty or resources, rather than an opportunity. They may be focused on what the mentor can do for them, rather than understanding that this relationship is a mutual growth opportunity.

STRATEGY - Re-establish the roles and responsibilities for both partners and make sure that the boundaries are clear. Also revisit the objectives that were agreed upon in the Mentoring Agreement.  

Back to top

Obstacles Mentors Bring on Themselves

The "Imposter" - A mentor who feels they must be all things to their mentee.

STRATEGY - Give yourself permission to say "I don't know" and expand your mentee's network by introducing them to other senior faculty who can fulfill some of these needs. Alternately, if there are skills that you both need to build, you can use this as a bonding exercise and work on it together.  This willingness to admit that you are human will also serve as a shining example that your mentee will appreciate when it is time for them to mentor someone.

The "Comet" - An overachieving mentor who commits too much time and effort to a single mentee; this mentor also allows the Manipulator Mentees to take over. Both can lead to burnout.

STRATEGY - Be mindful when scheduling meetings, making sure that they aren't too frequent and are productive (don't meet just to meet).  Make sure that your mentee has specific tasks or goals to complete and follow up with them at the next meeting to make sure they are on schedule. 

The "Black Cloud" - This mentor has "been around the block" and shares all the war & horror stories. While this mentor just wants to save the mentee from making the same mistakes, this approach can not only dampen the enthusiasm of the most intrepid mentee, it can damage future progress by making the mentee hesitant to take on new opportunities and challenges.  

STRATEGY - Focus on the positive and don't project your experiences on your mentee. Ask your mentee probing questions about their desire to move in this direction.  If you feel that this decision is not in their best interest, you can always provide "safer" alternatives. Be sure to share your reasoning behind your advice, basing your reasoning on the achievement of their goals. The bottom line is that you must respect the mentee's decision, even if it doesn't coincide with your advice.   

The "Director" - This mentor feels that their experience and longevity give them the responsibility to direct every aspect of the relationship. Rather than guiding the mentee, this mentor pushes and/or pulls the mentee along, forcing their agenda on their mentee.

STRATEGY - Practice your active listening skills, which will allow you to hear what the mentee needs, as well as giving them the opportunity to come up with the answer on their own. This will create a healthy give and take relationship, where the mentee feels empowered to take responsibility for their success.

The "Clam" - This mentor doesn't share information or feelings with their mentee, which can create an atmosphere of distrust and uncertainty. Mentees may read more into a situation than is intended.

STRATEGY - If this is a situation in which it is simply a personality preference (i.e., you tend to be introverted), then you need to be up front when meeting with your mentee for the first time. Be direct in your communications but be sure to check in with your mentee during each meeting to be sure that they are comfortable where things stand. Even if it does not come natural to you, make an attempt to ramp up your empathy skills, especially if your personality type is very different from your mentee.

The "Procrastinator" - This mentor is seldom prepared for meetings with their mentee or frequently reschedules the meetings. Often, necessary conversations are avoided.

STRATEGY - Is it simply an issue of being overcommitted, a lack of your own time management skills or is it something deeper? If it is a situation that cannot be resolved with some organization skills on your part, it may be time to consider closure with your mentee.


In the event that a relationship is no longer viable, it is important that the JUMP Manager be contacted by either the mentor or mentee to provide assistance and if desired, to identify potential alternate mentors for the mentee. See Terminating The Mentoring Relationship.

Back to top

Back to Mentoring Relationship Home

Quick Reference

Evelyn Anthony, MD
Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
Shannon Suggs
Program Coordinator

Find A Doctor Ways to Give
Last Updated: 07-29-2016
Wake Forest Baptist Ranked among Nation’s ‘Best Hospitals’  25 Years in a Row by U.S. News & World ReportComprehensive Cancer Centers National Designation is Renewed2017-2018 Best DoctorsNursing Magnet StatusJoint Commission Report

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.

© Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157. All Rights Reserved.